Just after university, I bought into a small construction company and helped to turn it into a larger one. As a part of that, I suggested that we start doing construction estimating for others as a way of maximizing winter revenue. We already had an IBM mag-card typewriter in the office, and I had heard of computers, though I had never seen one.
So I called IBM and leased a 360/20 mainframe, for which I had to build a special room with water-cooling facilities. Then they came and installed what became my first personal computer. I asked the salesman about getting the programming done (I had been doing my research 🙂 ) and he said it looked like he could free someone up to talk to me in five or six months. I pondered how much the lease payments would be over that period and told him to ship me the books. I had to lease another office to make room for the books.
I ran construction projects during the day, and learned to program in IBM assembler at night. About 120 days later, I had a workable project estimating system for all classes of buildings. We honed it by getting plans and having humans do the work while I fed the IBM information. When our numbers started to match, we were in the very lucrative construction estimating business.
That started my career in computers. Because the subject interested me, and was perfectly suited to computers, I developed some very interesting cryptological algorithms in my spare time. That led a small agency of the U.S. government to employ me as a contractor in Maryland, where I added search routines to pick keywords out of cable traffic to my resume. That, in turn, led to a number of years in an adjacent but much more hands-on industry in Europe and Southeast Asia.
Upon my return, I picked up on micro-computers while making a living writing software for minis. (no, not Mac Minis, mini-computers) After 1982 or so, most of my revenue came from consulting projects either writing software or managing large software projects. I rented myself, sort of an uber-expensive Kelly Girl, to small and large business: Pageant Match, Hewlett-Packard, Peninou French Laundry, General Electric, United Airlines, IBM, Visa International, Sprint, and a veritable cast of thousands.
Like legions of techies before and after me, I burnt out on code. For a while afterward I designed and built data warehouses, drew up software architectures, and did conceptual consulting. Then I just stopped dead in the water, jumped out of my carbon-fiber racer and into a wood-hulled Mercury runabout, and started writing things other than code.
Now I write novels, non-fiction books, and columns on technical subjects, plus develop Web sites to just to keep one toe of one foot in geekdom. Now I get to think far and wide instead of narrow and focused. I get to use my right brain, which was still almost brand new after 30 years in the software development business. Life has not slowed down much, but it has become much more human.